Japan may have started a new chapter in its space history with the successful test of a rocket engine powered exclusively by locally produced energy: cow dung.
In the test carried out this Thursday (7), the engine propelled a blue and orange flame ten meters long horizontally for a few seconds through the door of a hangar on the island of Hokkaido, in the north of the country.
The liquid biomethane needed for combustion was produced with “contributions” from cattle from two local dairy producers, explains Takahiro Inagawa, CEO of Japan’s Interstellar Technologies.
“We do this not only because it is good for the environment, but also because it can be produced locally, because it is very profitable and it is a fuel with very good performance and great purity”, assures Inagawa to AFP.
“We are the first private company to do this,” he adds. “I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that this will be replicated across the world.”
Interstellar hopes to send satellites into space thanks to this fuel. It is associated with Air Water, a producer of industrial gases, which works with local farmers who have equipment to transform manure into biogas.
“Resource-poor Japan must now guarantee a carbon-neutral energy source within its territory,” says Tomohiro Nishikawa, an engineer at the Air Water group.
“The raw material coming from cows in this region has enormous potential. If the international situation changes, it is important that Japan has [uma fonte de energia como esta]”, he states.
Air Water biomethane is already used by a local creamery and other factories, to heat buildings and to power trucks and boats under pilot programs.
40 t of manure daily
Japanese space agency Jaxa successfully launched its “Moon Sniper” lunar mission in September, but the Japanese aerospace sector has had to deal with numerous problems in recent years, including two failed missions.
Japan has also suffered disappointments with its launchers following the failure of the new-generation H3 rocket or Jaxa’s Epsilon-6 small launcher.
Biogas derived from cow dung is used as fuel in other parts of the world. For example, in the Indian city of Indore, it is used to power buses.
Its use helps to reduce the enormous environmental footprint of livestock farming, which, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), is responsible for 12% of greenhouse gas emissions in the world linked to human activity.
Although the combustion of biogas also releases greenhouse gases, the same occurs in natural degradation processes, since leaks from livestock farms also contaminate the soil and waterways.
The 900 head of cattle owned by Eiji Mizushita, 58, generate more than 40 tons of manure a day. The livestock farmer, who participated in the project, launched a system that automatically collects his animals’ feces, fermenting them and transforming them into biogas, fertilizer and even sand for the cattle.
“It makes me happy to think that our animals’ excrement is used to make a rocket fly,” says Mizushita. “We have to get rid of manure with proper use. I think the government and society in general should have a different point of view on the importance of renewable energy and encourage its production.”